Over the past half-century, virtually all large-scale labor surveys have been collected by mail and, as a result, have been hampered by major delays in producing accurate economic statistics that are essential to policymakers. These timeliness concerns are becoming even more critical as policymakers begin to operate in a global economy in which information is instantly available. In 1986, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began to address this problem by developing a highly automated and cost-effective replacement for mail by utilizing computer-based Touchtone Data Entry and Voice Recognition (TDE/VR) technology. This effort modernizes survey data collection and will soon lead to identical e-mail collection procedures as employers rapidly link to the Internet. These new highly automated procedures also fundamentally changed international views on the feasibility of obtaining timely and accurate economic data for policy decision purposes.
The primary goal of the automated data collection project was to enable BLS to produce highly accurate preliminary monthly employment estimates and thus remove the need for substantial revisions. The achievement of this goal required the development of automated collection procedures capable of collecting and processing over 75 percent of 400,000 sample reports within the two-and-a-half week window for developing preliminary estimates. A secondary goal was to provide every state with the ability to produce and publish preliminary state job growth estimates concurrent with the national data release—this would provide national policymakers with a far more comprehensive geographic view of the economy's strength and provide state policymakers with more timely information on jobs and earnings in the state economy.
The single most important achievement of the TDE/VR initiative is its contribution to the accuracy of the preliminary monthly employment statistics, crucial for setting economic policy. Additionally for the statistical survey community as a whole, this innovation provides statistical agencies for the first time with a viable collection alternative for periodic surveys that is far superior and less expensive than traditional mail collection.